Ontario farmer learns today if he goes to jail for accidental death of his son

It’s a shared sentiment by many in the Ontario rural community of Grey Highlands that Emanuel Bauman has paid enough for the accidental death of his four-year-old son.

“I think it’s horrible, horrible. He has to live with his son dying and now maybe he’s going to do time?” said Donna Lisanti, who works at a local farm equipment supplier.

“It was a farm accident. It’s not like he went with the intent of wanting to kill his son or kill anybody for that matter.”

Yet the local farmer will appear at the Owen Sound Court House on Thursday afternoon, facing a possible jail sentence in what is believed to be a precedent-setting case.

In May, Bauman was found guilty of criminal negligence in the death of his son Steven, who died after falling out of a skid steer bucket.

In her written decision, Justice Julia Morneau of the Ontario Court of Justice noted that neither she, nor the Crown attorney nor Bauman’s lawyer could find any similar cases in criminal law involving a child dying in a farm accident.

And that’s why many within the community believe the law has gone too far by finding Bauman criminally culpable.

“It is my sincere hope that mercy triumphs over judgment,” said Angela Fawcett-Demmans, who owns a general store in the area.

Living in rural country means, said Bill Jameson, who grew up in the area, “we don’t always abide by the safety rules as we should.”

“Bad enough that he lost his son,” said Jameson. “You’d think that would be enough punishment.”

Bauman and his family are part of the Mennonite community in Grey Highlands, a rural farm area located about 110 kilometres northwest of Toronto.

Lisanti said he would come to the shop, often in a horse and buggy, or get someone else to drive him.

“He’s a great guy,” she said.

At the Bauman farm, huge piles of wood for sale are stacked sky high. But in front of the two-storey white farm house is a warning sign for the large trucks that come on to the property to load up: Watch for children.

It was here, almost a year ago on Aug. 30, that Bauman, then 32, was building a laneway on his farm, using a skid steer to pull a trailer full of wood chips.

As he pulled the trailer, the chips would land in the laneway. Meanwhile, his two children, Luke, 7, and Steven, 4, were standing in the skid steer’s front-end bucket.

At some point, as Bauman’s attention was diverted while looking back, Steven fell out of the bucket.

Bauman found him on the ground, his head trapped under the bucket. He immediately called emergency services.

His neighbour recalled the scene that followed.

“I just got home and I didn’t know what was going on,” said Scott Murison. “When I saw … the [air] ambulance come in, I thought maybe he had hurt himself on the saw.”

Charged with criminal negligence

Steven died from head injuries and his father was charged with criminal negligence. He pleaded not guilty but conceded to everything in the Crown disclosure. Morneau stated in her decision that Bauman has always accepted full moral responsibility, but the question is whether he is criminally responsible for his son’s death.

His lawyer, Douglas Grace, argued Bauman shouldn’t face criminal liability; that this was a tragic accident. But Crown Attorney Peter Leger said Bauman is indeed criminally liable, just by having allowed Steven to be in such a dangerous situation.

Perhaps not surprisingly, an expert reported to the court that it would never be safe for children to ride in the bucket of a skid steer. And Bauman himself told police that he knew his sons shouldn’t have been in the bucket.

“A lot of times I never thought of letting them be there,” he told police, according to Morneau’s decision.

Still, he acquiesced to Steven’s pleas, who was excited about riding in the bucket.

Morneau herself acknowledged farmers have, for generations, not necessarily made safety a priority.

“Children have ridden with their fathers on their tractors for generations. Objectively assessed those tractor rides … have always been dangerous,” she wrote.

‘Completely foreseeable’

Fawcett-Demmans, the general store owner, said she grew up on a farm where her dad often let her ride in the tractor bucket.

“This so easily could have been our story,” she said.

And Lisanti said she remembers as a kid she always rode on her dad’s tractor “or on the bailer.”

But Morneau said this case is different and that Bauman must have known his attention, at times, would be diverted from the children.

“Any reasonably prudent parent would realize that a four-year-old child could fall from this bucket in seconds with devastating consequences.”

“It was completely foreseeable that if Steven fell from the bucket as the machine moved forward, that he would suffer serious bodily harm or death,” Morneau wrote.

The Crown has recommended a sentence of two years less a day, three years probation and a driving prohibition of 10 years, according to the Owen Sound Sun Times.

Bauman’s lawyer has argued for a suspended sentence with two or three years of probation, along with other conditions such as speaking to others in the community about farm safety, the Sun Times reported.

Some residents believe Bauman should face legal consequences. Jane McNaulty, for example, believes he should have been charged.

“He was being neglectful. Just not cautious enough,” she said.

But being sentenced to jail time, may be a little extreme, she added.

“They needed to charge him with something but that’s going a little too far because what’s going to happen to his family when he’s gone.”

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